Understanding the different dimensions of malnutrition to maximize human capital development (Part I: Introduction)

Malnutrition (over (bad) and undernutrition) is a global issue not only in the developed world but also in the developing countries. Its outcome is catastrophic in both cases. A simple act … feeding ourselves and our children appropriately seems to be not so easy. Why? There are many reasons that I won’t discuss today in this blog. In fact, I would like to focus on the different dimensions of malnutrition (hunger and undernutrition) and its consequences in the context of international development, mainly because it is currently the “on fire” issue that needs to be addressed. For a lot of stakeholders including us, nutrition and food security represent the cornerstone for progress on other development fronts such as employment, education, the environment and health and in achieving a quality future for humankind.

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Over the past five years, the fight against undernutrition and hunger is finally receiving the attention that it deserves:

  • Through the publication in the Lancet of a series of papers related to child and maternal undernutrition in 2008, which drew together evidence on key problems and proven solutions in nutrition (the next series will be launched in May 2013),
  • Followed by a number of initiatives, among other the endorsement of the ‘Scaling Up Nutrition’ Framework (SUN) by various stakeholders (2009). The SUN Framework calls for the implementation and scaling up of two complementary approaches. The first one is direct effective nutrition-specific interventions, focusing on pregnant women and children under two with short-term direct interventions such as the promotion of good nutritional practices, micronutrients, and complementary feeding. The second is a broader multi-sectoral nutrition-sensitive approach that tackles the determinants of undernutrition by promoting agriculture and food security, access to and consumption of nutritious foods, improving social protection, care practices and ensuring access to health care,
  • To the recent Rome meeting consultation on post-2015 development agenda co-led by the Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Program (WFP) that calls for food security and nutrition to be the central element in future development efforts not just for developing countries but for the global community as a whole.

Although the prevalence of malnutrition in developing countries is decreasing, it is still a major problem for many children. Understanding the problem and consequently formulating intervention programs at the local and national levels is a motion in progress but it still remains a complex and difficult issue.

The first reason being that the process of malnutrition expresses itself in different forms and with variable consequences.

A second reason making malnutrition a complex problem is that the primary causes – the interaction between insufficient food supply (quantity and quality) and the frequent recurrence of infectious diseases – are determined by a multitude of factors of different natures. This complexity – of its expressions, effects, and causality – makes it difficult to get a global vision and understanding of the problem.  

As we are moving in a new era where tackling the problem of malnutrition (hunger, undernutrition and bad nutrition) could be one major focus in the post-2015 development agenda, it is important to better understand the pathophysiology of malnutrition and the factors that influence the growth process in preschool age to help to better direct actions.

During the next few weeks, we will try to answer these questions:

What are the different dimensions of malnutrition (i.e. hunger and undernutrition), the causes, the consequences, and the proposed strategies/solutions to make undernutrition “the world’s number one solvable problem”?

We will focus more specifically on stunting (a not so well known complex aspect of malnutrition with long term impact), micronutrient deficiencies (one of the most cost effective solutions to tackle some specific consequences of malnutrition), the long-term consequences of undernutrition in the context of child and maternal health, the importance of protein intake for human capital development. Finally, we will try to summarize the most appropriate strategy that would use a combination of direct effective nutrition-specific interventions and a broader multi-sectoral nutrition-sensitive approach that tackles the determinants of undernutrition.

Time to move to the next blog….

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